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Editorial Reviews

Famed British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen has spent the last 25 years publishing his research on theories of mind, consistently demonstrating that he is one of the most experimental and cutting-edge specialists in the field of cognition. The Science of Evil, published abroad as Zero Degrees of Empathy, brings together several strands of Baron-Cohen's work into a unified theory of human cruelty that describes empathy as a brain-based and therefore scientifically accessible phenomenon. East Sussex actor Jonathan Crowley does a superb job of conveying how groundbreaking and interesting Baron-Cohen's premise truly is. A frequent voice worker and recent winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award, Crowley is no stranger to the invigorating possibilities of scientific non-fiction narration. The psychologist makes it easy on him, with clear writing that explains cognition in everyday terms and with a view toward the practical applications of his theory.

Essentially, there are three diagnoses that have a lack of empathy in common: borderline personality disorder, narcissism, and psychosis. Each of these mental states is missing either the ability to recognize the feelings or others, or the ability to respond to those feelings, or both. This is Baron-Cohen's fundamental argument about the cause of human cruelty. Cruelty is only possible given a lack of empathy, and he devotes a chapter to each of these diagnoses. He devotes additional chapters to autism, the subject around which the majority of Baron-Cohen's research has long orbited. Because autistics are highly systematizing thinkers, they generally develop strong moral rules and a sense of injustice that is not premised upon having empathy, which is a characteristic they lack.

Crowley's lively rendering of the case studies for each type of person having zero degrees of empathy is deeply engrossing. Listeners will be shocked to recognize bits and pieces of their own less than understanding moments embedded in the anecdotal evidence provided here. The book concludes with a hint of the larger implications for a complete study of empathy as a brain-based behavior. Crowley delivers Baron-Cohen's final plea with all the earnest optimism it deserves: if we could use science to isolate the biological sources of empathy, we could eliminate cruelty, and voila -- world peace. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

Borderline personality disorder, autism, narcissism, psychosis, Asperger's: All of these syndromes have one thing in common---lack of empathy. In some cases, this absence can be dangerous, but in others it can simply mean a different way of seeing the world. In The Science of Evil, Simon Baron-Cohen, an award-winning British researcher who has investigated psychology and autism for decades, develops a new brain-based theory of human cruelty. A true psychologist, however, he examines social and environmental factors that can erode empathy, including neglect and abuse. Based largely on Baron-Cohen's own research, The Science of Evil will change the way we understand and treat human cruelty.

©2011 Simon Baron-Cohen (P)2011 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Baron-Cohen's professorial background shines through in the book's tone and in step-by-step, engaging prose urging both academic and lay reader alike to journey with him in scientific inquiry." (Publishers Weekly)

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A perspective that is original

Would you listen to The Science of Evil again? Why?

The science is amazing; his conclusion definitely opens up the topic to debate even if you don't agree but it will make a reader think deeply about the motivations behind human action

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Amazing!

Insightful and informative! I liked it so much that I'm immediately starting it again. I have been wanting to read this for years. Fascinating!

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Very interesting and informative.

Presented a scientific case for evil that gave me a completely new perspective. Nonmember kg tot Togo. Ogle goal rod

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One of the best of its kind

The author brings brain research into the ongoing debate on the nature of evil. I've read the classic works on psychopaths, and found baron-Cohen's concept of empathy, degrees of empathy and the variability of empathy within an individual to be an important contribution to our understanding of evil.

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empathy understanding explained

this is one of my favorite topics that I enjoy listening to. I find the material easy to understand.

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Inspiring

This book gave me hope that there may one day be a world in which helping others and caring about their needs is smiled upon and accepted as the proper way to do things. Well researched and well read, while also being simplified and condensed very well. A must read for anyone who seeks to make the world more peaceful or seeks to understand the roadblocks to peace that currently inhabit the world.

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Insightful & revolutionary

What made the experience of listening to The Science of Evil the most enjoyable?

In his insightful book, Mr Baron-Cohen suggests that "measures of empathy" be used as both a solution and a system with which to evaluate people on a medical (psychiatric) and societal (judicial) level, rather than with the current labels used to define psychiatric (often perceived as evil) conditions. The writer uses his research to redefine "evil" in a way that gives the reader hope that science can contribute positively to solving our collective moral and world problems. I would have enjoyed more chapters about how and why empathy might fluctuate in a person over time (moments, days, weeks, months, years and life time). But his is a truly revolutionary way of looking at psychology and psychiatry. Incredibly insightful.

What does Jonathan Cowley bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Great narrator. Loved the pace and clarity.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The last chapter forced me to re examine some of my beliefs.

Any additional comments?

Excellent, excellent book.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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The science of empathy...

Although the title of this book is the science of evil, I believe it speaks more to the science of empathy. Empathy is conveyed as a bell shaped phenomena that we experience everyone around us, and he goes into details on those in the lowest levels of empathy. Some critical thoughts I had where that I have found in clinical experience people with Borderline Personality Disorder do not have zero empathy as he states, but perhaps a misguided empathy. I have found that many people with BPD do go on to become therapists or psychiatrist by the very nature that they are capable of feeling what others experience more vividly then normal people. However this is perhaps something that only occurs through good therapy or religious experience as those with BPD heal. I do however believe that those with BPD who are in an episode, often do to perceived abandonment, of stripping of the social veneer that holds them together, do in fact have zero empathy for a short time. The other thing I would have appreciated more was how the author thinks such evil as defined by lack of empathy can be overcome. Overall I found the book very helpful in a way of understanding empathy and it has sparked my interest in reading more on the topic. I do highly recommend this listening to this book!

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Great premise, lacks excitement

Would you listen to The Science of Evil again? Why?

No, I wouldn't listen to this book again. The material was dry and felt like sitting through a personality disorders seminar. It seemed there was little inflection to give the book life.

Were the concepts of this book easy to follow, or were they too technical?

Being a psychology major, the material was easy to follow. If I did not have my background, the book would not have been too technical. The concepts are pretty clearly explained with plenty of examples to further elaborate.

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

It felt like there was no pacing to the story, and the narration was lackluster. I would say that the narration did match the pace of the story.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Journey through the minds of disordered personalities. The darkness awaits.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Thought Provoking

Any additional comments?

Simon Baron Cohen is a specialist in Autism, and he referred to Autism a bit in the book and I'd be really interested to read more of his work in this field. His book was quite thought provoking. In my personal interpretation of the book, it seems Mr. Cohen believes evil is not a spiritual matter at all, but rather a chemical/medical one. "Evil" doesn't really exist, it's just that some people have lower levels of empathy.<br/>He also seems to advocate for criminals who commit crimes due to their mental illnesses to have less severe punishments, since they can't help being sociopaths/psychopaths, or as Mr. Cohen would say, low on empathy.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful